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22/07/2012

An interview with the gamer Jon "NEVERDIE" Jacobs

As part of my research, I came across Jon "NEVERDIE" Jacob's press release about "bringing his wife back from the dead" as an avater in a game, and asked for an interview. Parts of the interview were used in an article I wrote that was published only in Hebrew, so here is the full interview: 

From what I saw in your “I am my avatar” docudrama on YouTube, you live a very intense, hectic life: Do you still have the time or inclination to play? 
I am married to an artist, we have 3 kids and I have a Studio, so yes it's hectic, I dont have time to play hours on end, but I love to log in and play casually. 

Since you became a developer and can’t play inside your own creations, what do you play, if you do?
I really definitely don't have time to play other games, most games are so immersive these days that I really don't want to even get started. Basically, I have played at not being able to play by placing my avatar in Prison... But Entropia Universe is expanding into a Space Game next week, that I am not directly involved in developing, so I plan to escape Jail and NEVERDIE will become a Space Pirate.

What does it mean for you, to “become your avatar”?
Becoming your avatar means owning your Virtual Altar Ego, it means accepting you can change your life via your avatar, see it as representation and reflection of you, as your vehicle in another reality.. I see ROCKtropia as much more than a game, but to tap into that, one has to believe in your avatar... All of this stems from my background as an actor: to deliver a great performance you have to believe that you are your character you have to experience the moments truthfully, Virtual Reality is professional gaming Like pro basketball or professional acting, the stakes are high, life changing, life affirming, this is the way I view ROCKtropia and the Entropia Universe platform. The relationships you establish are real, the consequences of your actions, the rewards, the losses are all real, so the best way to position yourself at the outset is to become your avatar, that way you will get the most out of it.



I’m sorry to be bringing up memories which might be painful to you, but if you could be so kind as to tell me a bit about Tina, your relationship in the virtual world and outside it, her relationship with virtual worlds, and how her life came to an end?
Tina was an incredibly warm and strong willed person, she was also a picture of strength, a perfect blend of Samoan warrior and Polynesian princess, she was born in Hawaii, but grew up in Portland Oregon, one of five girls, with such a large family they were pretty poor and very hard working and practical.
Tina's job when she graduated high school was as a heavy vehicle driver for the State, she worked as a road builder, she always nurtured dreams of being a singer, but she was painfully shy and didn't receive much encouragement at home. She won a few beauty contests and female body building contests and used the money to move to Miami in the early 1990's. She dated a doctor and studied massage and opened a theraputic massage business on South Beach, where her clients included the top modelling agencies and among others Mickey Rourke who was training for his comeback as a Boxer.
Because of her striking beauty, she inevitably started to get modeling jobs and running her own business gave her the confidence to pursue acting. She landed a few roles in independent movies, which in turn inspired her to move to Hollywood to give her a career a real shot. She was not particularly geared for the politics of Hollywood, particularly the whole casting couch thing, and she started gravitating more towards music, which is when we met at the end of 1998. She was actually doing massage on Venice boardwalk. We had a son, Taliesin, who was born in Nov '99 and after 9/11 things were very quiet for us in LA so on an impulse we moved to Miami, where I was able to get a movie off the ground, "Hey DJ", in which Tina was the co-star and where she could contribute to the soundtrack. This gave her a bona fide global dance hit record called "To The Club" by Spankox.
From the time I first met her I was playing in MMO's Ultima online and Everquest and I wrote a movie about NEVERDIE in December 2000. In the beginning Tina didn't play too much, but when we moved to Miami and I was playing inside Entropia Universe as NEVERDIE, we had two computers and she enjoyed creating her avatar and dressing her up and then exploring the world and then her warrior side kicked in and she started playing a lot. It was the only game she ever played, in particular because my avatar was so strong she loved hunting with new players, so If I was too busy she would hunt with noobs. I was so amazed by her playing I wrote a song about her called Gamer Chick, there is a music video, where you can see our original Avatars playing together...

Also, there is a scene in Hey DJ the movie, where she is playing her avatar. We were both really passionate about it, and she believed like me that it was going to be huge.




How did you come up with the idea to bring Island Girl’s avatar back?
Well, since I was banned from Logging in her Avatar into Entropia, because other players felt as if they were seeing a Ghost. I was feeling unsatisfied. Also, I was not able to build a website for Tina that I felt did her justice.. So when I was developing the Virtual World Next Island, which was a polynesian inspired tropical paradise, it was just a perfect opportunity to pay tribute to Tina to keep her spirit alive... Tina had many healers in her Samoan family and had she lived she would have loved to open a Spa in Samoa, so it was really just an inspiration. During her last year of life she had worked on a website, but it never came to fruition, so I really felt as if there was something I still needed to do.

How did you create Island Girl’s avatar? Was it stored in MindArk’s memory banks or have you built it from scratch?
Island Girl's avatar still exists, but the Avatar Creation system has changed since the time she was playing so it doesn't exactly look the same. So I decided to base the Avatar on real life pictures from a photo session she did for her record "Island Girl".





Were you always fascinated with life / death / afterlife / immortality, and is this why you chose your avatar to be named “NEVERDIE”?
Yes, I grew up on the Greek Myths and have always believed in Destiny and aspired to heroics and to embark upon great quests... When I created NEVERDIE the Avatar, I wanted him to be an iconic hero. In my original NEVERDIE screenplay, NEVERDIE becomes trapped in the virtual world even after his body is in a coma, I love the idea that we can utilize our avatars to skip out on our bodies when they die.

Do you see life after death as avatars as something humanity should be hoping for as new means of coping with loss and grief?
Not necessarily as a way to cope with loss and grief. I think that if someone who dies has an avatar in a virtual world, the family members are going to feel an attachment to the avatar, particularly if the person was attached to their avatar. In the same way that one might treasure a loved one's diaries or want to keep a Facebook page, I think an avatar may be something the family feel connected with if they were prior to the passing. If not, then the avatar wouldn't mean much to a family member...

What I do think is that humanity might want to consider is that avatars may be a vehicle for us to transcend the Biological Body, according to Ray Kurzweil, science is really moving in this direction, and I just think that it's super fun and exciting. To me all things in this world are part of nature, atoms, cells, pixels, etc.. so one thing is not better than another in my mind. If a prosthetic leg enables a man to walk, that's super. If an electronic earpiece enables you to hear, wear it! If a digital body enables your mind to survive the death of your body, that's brilliant. And since so many people already now spend so much time in virtual worlds its obvious we as humanity would embrace it very quickly, just like we have so quickly embraced cyberspace and the Internet.

Do you see bringing Tina’s avatar back as a way of dealing with your loss, or as a way of running away from the pain of losing her?
Tina was an artist. She wanted her music, her words, her image to carry on, she strove for that. I think many of us strive for immortality in some way or another, through our art or our children or our contributions to our communities or the world. Tina died young without having become a big star, that she perhaps could have been. I feel mostly as if I am honoring her spirit. I deal with my loss by clinging to the belief that the human spirit is immortal and not fearing death. I deal with the pain by embracing life and loving and expanding my family, in no way do I see remembering Tina as the same as not letting go.

Do you envision a futuristic virtual world populated by “ghosts” – avatars of people who have passed away, and among them avatars of living people?
Well, perhaps we will see more of this, but they don't have to be treated as ghosts, they can be treated as characters, for example, if I chose to create a virtual Aristotle, we wouldn't so much see him as a ghost, but for what he was, he would be alive again as an interactive character in.... I don't necessarily think that it is going to catch on, that people will start making avatars of their lost loved ones.
As I said, I think people will start making avatars for themselves so they have a place to retreat to when their biological bodies are done... Then I can see a world where some avatars belong to people whose bodies are dead and some belong to people who are living. It may sound creepy to some, but I would pick that option before I would pick death. I think also that it's very creative and virtual worlds are just going to become more and more amazing and lifelike. Already you can live out incredible fantasy professions inside a virtual World, I think it will be a great future... And maybe one day we will be able to build new Physical Bodies so we can step back out of the Virtual World into this realm.

When I read you gave Island Girl a reviving power on Next Island, I was very moved
Is this a power you wish you had yourself, bringing people back from the dead? Or stopping them from dying in the first place?
Yes, If I continue to be successful in the Virtual World I would like to invest in the research to make these ideas of uploading your mind and living consciousness into an avatar a possibility

What did you think about the movie ‘Avatar’? Is this how you would like life to be in the future - people and avatars living side by side?
Yes, absolutely and just like in the movie, you could become your avatar, when Your real body dies. That movie was such a big hit Cameron, obviously hit a nerve..  Vampires are also a Huge thing in pop culture I do think our society is enamored with the concept of immortality.

Is this a service you wish you could offer others – creating avatars for their lost loved ones?
I don't see this as a business for me, I'm more interested in creating the Virtual Worlds themselves and stories aimed a wide audience rather than just for individual families. I think the job of creating avatars for loved ones,  is best left to the families.. It's possible in the future that tools for this could be created for the End user and no doubt people could find creative uses for it like I have... For example, someone might want to Create Quests for their family Members in order to become a beneficiary of their will... (That might be interesting) Or someone who is dying Young might want to leave an Avatar for their children to interact with as they grown up, Vs say perhaps recording Video messages or writing a series of post dated letters. Of course if someone approached me with something really Creative like they wanted to Create a Quest Avatar for our Virtual world inspired by one of their loved ones and there was a Universal message and possible storyline and value for the communtiy as a whole, It could be interesting, but its a lot of work and expensive to do at that level.

When you build a computer controlled character, an avatar persona, how much can you “pour” into it to resemble the person?
From a Physical perspective, you can get a very close resemblance. the more time you spend on it the better.

You wrote in your press release: “virtual reality will be the means by which humanity transcends death itself”, and “virtual reality is the place where we can transcend death, perhaps not on a literal level right now, but very possibly in the future” – could you elaborate, please?
I think I have already touched on this, I do believe we will choose to switch our consciousness into our avatars before our Physical bodies die... The is a Great book called "The Singularity is near" by Ray Kurzweil that explains very well, why and how this will become a reality in the near future.

There's also a famous expression "you can't take it with you" but Virtual Reality changes that. ROCKtropia for example uses a real cash Economy and also an Avatar Skill system so, your avatar can have real money and real assets in the Virtual world that enable it to have greater freedom, access and resources, also the Avatar itself has skills that enable it to specialize and excell and do a wide variety of things...  So essentially you can transfer your real world wealth to the Virtual World and Gain significant benefit from it, you can also transfer it back out again.. So for Example, suppose I was dying and wanted to become my avatar, I could invest all my money in the virtual World and into my avatar Skills, then i could let my human Body die, and I could manage my wealth from within the virtual World and still support my family in the real world while continuing to enjoy my wealth in my virtual afterlife. Cheeky huh?

How does your wife, Cheri, feel about you “resurrecting” your former fiancee back from the dead by bringing Tina’s avatar back to life?
As time has gone on, Cheri feels very secure in our relationship and is not in any way concerned that I have not let go of the past. As Taliesin grows up and accomplishes things, Cheri finds herself talking to Tina sometimes and imagining the joy Tina would feel seeing Taliesin.. She feels as blessed as I do and knows Tina would be happy. She also accepts that I'm a little whacky.

How did your son and Tina’s parents feel about the resurrection of her avatar?
Taliesin really likes it and wants to write story lines and quests that explore her Samoan heritage. Tina's mom was very fond of playing with Tina in the virtual world and she instantly knew that Tina would love this.



Have you taken them on a virtual tour inside the virtual world to meet Island Girl?
Not yet... I need to make a trip to Oregon for that or buy them a new computer.. They still have an avatar.. I think i would prefer however, to work on the story lines and Quests first, to make the experience even more amazing for them

How do you think the digital era has changed, is changing and will change the way we deal with death, loss, grief? 
Without Question we have to deal with the remnants of our lost loved ones lives on the internet, through facebook and other social sites, it is another community we have to deal with as we grieve... That was the strangest thing for me, is that I had to deal with Our Friends in RL and then our friends in the Virtual World, the ones in the Virtual were even more expressive and perhaps touched me deeper.

The way we remember those who have passed away?
No question a Digital memorial has far greater potential than a Headstone, statue or Mausoleum, I think we can anticipate some really interesting solutions for the future. I mean we are already using the Cloud to store things, I have lost some of Tina's pictures on Hard Drives that have died, i would prefer to archive digital memories in a more secure environment and be able to access them in a very user friendly manner.

Have you looked into the legal possibilities of transferring your digital and virtual assets?
Yes.

Do you have a will that includes these assets?
Yes, these are my most valuable assets.

Since you are a Planet Partner of MindArk, I assume you know what their policy is in this regard. 
How do you feel about it? (“Your Entropia Universe Account will be disposable by Your legal successors by inheritance…”) http://legal.entropiauniverse.com/legal/terms-of-use.xml
 If anything were to happen to you, would you wish for your wife or children to maintain your avatar?
In the Same Way that the Walt Disney Company takes care of Mickey Mouse I would hope my family will take care of NEVERDIE, unless of course I am able to live to see the day when i can transfer my living mind to my Avatar, in which case I will be able to take care of myself, I think given that my name is NEVERDIE, i should try to live up to it and become the first true immortal someone has to do it, maybe that is my destiny.

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